I am the queen of naiveté. I grew up on a farm in rural Wisconsin where the only sources I had for learning about the outside world were school, church, television – only CBS though since our reception couldn’t pick up NBC or ABC - and from books. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until later in adult life I realized these sources usually presented an ideal or white-washed version of the real world.
While listing topics for my new “Getting a Clue Blog, racism along with feminism are always at the top of the list. It was rare for me to encounter people who weren’t white in my community during the 60’s and 70’s. The one and only time I remember seeing someone with darker skin was while visiting a nearby town with my Grandma. We were sitting in her car on a sweltering July day (probably waiting for my Dad to return from the feed store) when she said, “Quick roll up the windows and duck down. There are colored folks over there who’ll steal from us if they see you” I remember doing what she said, but only after sneaking a peek at this man and his son.
I learned about the civil rights movement in social studies and was taught God loves everyone equally at church. I believed our country had moved on from racism and that my Grandma was an anomaly. She was old, didn’t get out much and didn’t know better. In the eighties I went to see the film Mississippi Burning and was reassured the world had changed and my country had moved on from all that.
That was until a few years ago, before the Trevon Martin incident. I was relaying bad news from a company I work with to a respected member of my community. This person is an educated, religious, wealthy, older white male. Upon hearing my news, he went into a rage swearing and spewing hatred towards every person he had ever dealt with at this company, even referring to a former employee of this company with a racial slur.
I was shocked. I stood there completely tongue-tied unable to believe my ears. I had been wrong. When this man singled out a person of color with the “n” word I realized not only did racism still exist, but I was looking right at it. This man may think he's good at hiding it, but racism and hatred are alive in his psyche.
I was reminded of him this week as I read numerous articles and blog posts discussing how racism continues to be a huge problem in our society; in response to the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
Racism is not a topic I can easily write about. I feel I don’t know enough about it to write truthfully and intelligently. But I can tell you this, racism does exist and is more prevalent than I thought possible. It exists not just in our segregated cities and in the south. It is in the north, in our suburban communities, in our places of employment, in our churches, our charities, and our families. I would like to think the children of the man I spoke to above would have been appalled and embarrassed if they had heard his words, but I will never know for sure.
Another key element of my “Becoming Savvy” blog is to write about books that have made me a more informed person. A book I’ve been meaning to read for this project is The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson.
Mocha Mama, one of my favorite bloggers covering racism, writes:
There aren't many books that I would recommend be a part of a mandated curriculum in teaching History (because there are a great many to be sure) but one that I cannot stop thinking about is Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns. It is remarkable in scope and one cannot help but consider that movement, The Great Migration, in shaping cities and labor issues and the construction of what came to be known as the ghetto and the gentrification of those cities later on in history. Wilkerson herself has called that Migration "the biggest underreported story of the twentieth century.
I plan to read The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration next month. Will you join me?